They’re big, slow, and always hungry. But they’re also absolutely irresistible, and we can’t help but love them. People travel across the country and from all over the world to Florida in hopes of glimpsing the majestic manatee. These slow-moving marine mammals can weigh more than 1,200 pounds and grow to nearly 10 feet in length. They eat sea grass and other aquatic vegetation they find in the warm coastal waters.
Manatees require warm water to survive which is why they congregate predominantly in Florida year-round, although they’ve been spotted in waters as far north as Massachusetts in recent years and in waters throughout eastern Texas. This can also be their downfall, however, since man-made sources of warm waters such as power plant discharges also attract manatees. Although they have no natural predators, these graceful giants have long had to fight for survival against threats like climate change and boat collisions. In 1967, the manatees were listed as an endangered species under a precursor to the Endangered Species Act, primarily as a result of habitat loss which remains a serious concern. Today experts estimate that there are about 5,000 manatees remaining in the United States.
Manatees are Florida’s official state marine mammal. Possibly as a gesture of gratitude, these massive mammals bring in millions of dollars in tourism revenue annually. Visitors flock to two places in particular to catch a glimpse–Blue Spring State Park and Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, where manatees are attracted to the warmer temperatures during winter months. Combined, the two parks draw nearly 400,000 visitors each year from outside their respective counties who spend in excess of $20 million. That revenue supports nearly 400 tourism-related jobs with a payroll of more than $5 million. Read more in Defenders’ Conservation Pays report.